Grand Final preview

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It’s the climax of the Challenge Tour season – one last chance to grab a card for the 2014 European Tour. Here’s the Golf365 guide to Grand Final.

What happens?

The top 45 players in the rankings scrap for the 15 European Tour cards on offer. Victory in the tournament is nice, number one spot in the rankings looks good on the CV, but winning a European Tour card matters.

Venue

A new destination and a new course for 2013 – the Robert Trent Jones Sr designed Al Badia GC in Dubai’s Festival City. Lost of water, lots of sand and sometimes lots of wind. Last year’s Grand Final had calm conditions and low scores but more usually the conditions were tough at the previous venue San Domenico. This year could see really low scores because the venue is friendly from the tee.

25 years

The Challenge Tour started life in 1989 as it meant to go on – by granting a player the opportunity to fulfil his dreams at the highest level, in this case Italy’s Constantino Rocca, whose third place in the rankings earned him a European Tour card.

Since those days the tour has grown in size, in prize money, in media profile, in reach across the world and in importance. The tour is not just a reception class for young professionals. It’s also a place for players to return to after getting their fingers burned on the main tour. Or somewhere a career can be re-invigorated if it has gone stale.

Star graduates

Take a look at the leaders in the current Race to Dubai: Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Brett Rumford, Branden Grace, Thomas Bjorn, Peter Uihlein, Joost Luiten, Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter – all Challenge Tour grads.

Or think of major champions Michael Campbell, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kaymer and Darren Clarke – all Challenge Tour winners.

Or Ryder Cup stars Nicholas Colsaerts, Peter Hanson, Edoardo Molinari, Jesper Parnevik, Joakim Haeggman, Jarmo Sandelin – they all made their way through the ranks.

Unlikely heroes of the Challenge Tour

Winner of most events? England’s Iain Pyman (eight).

Winner of most events in one season? England’s Warren Bennett (five in 1998).

Most unlikely (Mickey Mouse?) winner – Phil Mickelson (winner of the 1993 Tournoi Perrier de Paris at Disneyland Paris)

Who and what have been the stories of the 2013 season?

The Young Americans

One of them, Peter Uihlein, won the co-sanctioned Madeira Island Open, gaining a European Tour card in the process. His friend Brooks Koepka needed three regular wins to achieve the same graduation, but he did it before the end of June. A third, Brinson Paolini, won the Le Vaudreuil Challenge and a fourth, Daniel Im, lies 13th in the rankings.

Double Dutch

22-year-old Daan Huizing had no Challenge Tour playing rights at the start of the season and had not made an appearance before June. But by the middle of September he had won twice, been runner-up once and never finished outside the top 20 in eight starts. Possibly a big name in the future.

Spanish flare

When he won a European Tour card at the end of 2011 Adrian Otaegui was, at the age of 19 years and 24 days, the second youngest full member of the 2012 European Tour (after Matteo Manassero). The 2010 Boys’ Amateur Champion and protégé of Jose Maria Olazabal subsequently struggled on the main tour, but ten top 30 finishes, including three second places, have earned him a second bite of the cherry.

The surprise package

Three years ago Scotland’s Scott Jamieson graduated from Challenge Tour without ever having once played on the European Tour. To leap from nowhere like that is a rarity. But Sweden’s Johan Carlsson has achieved the same feat this year. The 27-year-old turned pro late (just two years ago) and initially plied his trade on the Scandinavian circuit, which is how he won his playing rights this term. Four straight missed cuts looked ominous but he found form in mid-summer and earned himself a crack at the big time with an apparently nerveless seven shot victory in the most lucrative event of the year, the Kazakhstan Open.

The Grand Final question

As things stand only €1,081 separate Daniel Im, Sam Walker, Nacho Elvira and Marco Crespi who occupy 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th positions on the rankings. Every shot will count for those four men this week.

Every. Single. Shot.

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